Throughout this weekend, teams of enthusiastic volunteers will be camped at four different Caya stores across downtown – anxiously waiting to wrap all your Christmas gifts.
“We’re going to be gift wrapping for donations,” said Lisa Martella, the organization’s executive director.
“Caya has been very generous, they’ve purchased all the gift wrap and the ribbons and everything that we need. And we get to keep all the funds that are raised.”
Martella was all smiles as she explained what the 20-year-old charity is all about, showing the Observer around their small but well-used space.
“We provide over 100,000 meals each year to men, women and children affected by HIV and AIDS, and we provide nutritional counseling as well. So we are serving individuals, we are serving families, we are serving pregnant women, youth, and everybody in between that’s affected by HIV and AIDS,” she said.
The organization has almost 250 volunteers, who come in throughout the week to help allocate and deliver free frozen dinners to over 300 different clients in Vancouver.
"The majority of people that we serve are folks that are homebound. They don’t have a lot of support networks, so not a lot of family or friends that are able to help them. And generally, there’s an issue with food security for these people,” said Martella.
“We know that in order for their medications to be as effective as possible, they’re going to need good nutrition. So that’s what we provide. That’s our part, and what we do.”
Walking through the Loving Spoonful stock room, a visitor would find boxes stacked in every corner, containing everything from canned goods and bars of soap to socks and hand-knit tuques. These items are all sorted into super-sized gift hampers for the holiday drive, providing all the essentials (and even some toys) for families affected by HIV and AIDS.
Martella noted that the group has pretty much completed all its holiday hampers.
“Everything has come in, and people have been very generous this year," she said.
"But the one area that we’re finding difficult is our cash donations.”
In addition to a general holiday campaign to raise funds through direct mail and third-party events, this year the group has an additional online campaign called “Dress Fashionable Frosty”. With every $5000 raised, the cheerful snowman on their website gets to don another piece of his outfit…and when he’s all suited up they will have raised $30,000.
Unfortunately, Martella said that right now, the organization’s still sitting at about 50 per cent, leaving the smiling snowman only half-dressed.
“We’re always looking for the holiday miracles here at A Loving Spoonful,” she laughed.
“I think the economy has a lot to do with it. I think in general, people have less money and less money to give. So we’re trying to get the message out there – using social media especially – to say we still need some help.”
Since all monetary donations go towards buying nutritious dinners and snacks for the people they help throughout the year, some clients will lose out if they don’t raise enough cash.
“We are so reliant and dependent on funds that come in during this time, for us to purchase the food," she said.
"That’s really critical for us, and we’re hoping that there are some little Christmas miracles that do happen before the end of the year.”
When asked about her hopes and dreams for 2012, Martella said she looks forward to annual events like Dining Out For Life, and hints at a new “secret” event tentatively scheduled for next fall.
“At A Loving Spoonful we have so many events and different things that we do,” she explained.
"Our support has been great. The community has really been behind this organization.”
Without the generous donations from individuals, local businesses, churches and corporations, the staff acknowledge that none of their work would be possible – and hundreds of Vancouverites with AIDS and HIV would be left with little access to good, healthy food.
“It’s not about making that $1000 donation,” Martella said. “It’s about people making that $50 or $100 donation, if they can. Because that really makes a huge difference for us.”
To learn more about A Loving Spoonful or to make a donation, click here.